In September last year, Anglo- Japanese painter Peter McDonald won the U.K.’s £25,000 John Moores prize for contemporary painting with a work, “Fontana,” that depicted in simplistic shapes an artist thrusting a knife into a circular canvas. Or it could be someone attacking a giant eye. Or perhaps an update on Miro’s floating blobs. And, quite probably, all three.

The painting’s title refers to the Argentine-Italian artist Lucio Fontana, who in the late 1950s started slashing into canvases. For a century that saw painting dismantle itself — proceeding from 19th century Impressionism’s hazy concentration on light to Abstract Expressionism’s abandonment of recognizable subjects through to the white canvases of Robert Ryman from the ’60s — Fontana’s action was the final frontier, a moment where the painter said, “Let’s just move beyond the surface altogether.” McDonald’s work, while capturing such a historic moment, also visually tracks this evolution of 20th-century painting.

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